Open Letter to Minnesota: The Merits of Music Discourse

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25 Responses

  1. Sound Verite says:

    Yo Will, kick that “truth” shit and celebrate, good look,

  2. jonbehm says:

    Great piece Will!

  3. Cloud says:

    Thanks for opening up the discussion on this, yo!

  4. Mister Tures says:

    Ballsy. Excellent points. Good things come from constructive criticism and conversation.

    So tired of constantly hearing about the same 7 bands, and always in praises disproportionate to the quality of said bands. No matter the arena, calling each other on our shit forces everyone to better themselves or die off. Cheers to the pursuit of evolution and excellence in our local scene, and fighting to keep it from blandness.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. old guy says:

    hell yes, this is but one of the reasons why reviler is w/ out a doubt the best music site in mpls. nice work. 100% support, 100% respect

  6. zoe says:

    well said, Will!

  7. Nice piece, Will. With Andrea’s departure to The Current and Reed’s arrival at City Pages, I am quite interested to see how Gimme Noise evolves. I have not met Reed, but I understand he has MN roots. Given the fact he’s been out of state until recently, though, I’m eager to find out what locals he latches onto, and how those differ from who has been celebrated over the past few years.

    Additionally, I’ve very much enjoyed Andrea’s “Friday Five” in the new Local Current blog. I think this format gives her carte blanche when it comes to discussing any local band, no matter how under or over the radar they may be. I hope this will eventually touch on many of the acts we all individually feel deserve a bit more press & cred.

  8. Tarzan says:

    All i want out of our local music scene is a fair and biased opinion on ALL genres of music. not just white hip-hop and who bon iver has played two hand tag with in the past 5 years. right? Write an article on the extremely underrated hardcore/punk scene or avant garde music that spreads in our fair city. We need to open a critical hand also and smite those who dont know how to write music well and praise those who do but at the same time right an open honest opinionated article. you get that in most cities but you dont get that here. its a bandwagon think and other lical musician s are fucking sick of it. Reviler you have the best writers willing to listen but dont have the reach as say City Pages or Star Trib but we will change all that.

  9. Jim Meyer says:

    Day-yam!!!

  10. Old Dud says:

    fundamentally important
    refreshing
    earnest

    this may be the article that helps turn around our music scene.

  11. wild tundra says:

    I started Wild Tundra as a means to have a voice. As a musician in this city i was tired of seeing the same clique of people being priveliged enough to make it in our very skewed atmosphere of press. we exist in a scene that is very self serving… and although it is very awesome to have things like the current, city pages, vita.mn, and star trib… were hardly setting any trends here. Its very rare that music here makes it on the national market… and when a band does make it, we either chew them up, or they fizzle within a few years. I think its ok that we dont always focus on local music, if we became more cosmopolitan about who we focus on… maybe the local climate might change too. I also agree that there are great bands, artists and musicians out there that aren’t being focused on, and a lot of them choose to not participate in local press… but maybe they would if there was more of a variety of blogs, podcasts, webisodes, you name it. I think its great that you wrote this, because your correctly speaking for a lot of people i think. lets challenge each other. We all have a voice, and who gives fuck if people dont want to hear it. it will in fact help diversify what we have going on right now.

  12. Jim Meyer says:

    “Day-yam” is probably not the last word I will have on this article, but I need time to gather my wits after all those provocative ideas. Will echoes a thought I have long held — and only rarely published — that it’s past time for a more adventurous and persuasive approach to music coverage, with less of the self-congratulatory slobber that pervades here. I have a couple quibbles with the arguments and approaches, but this was a very welcome and timely blast. Re-Vile-r! Re-Vile-r!

  13. Reed Fischer says:

    Hey guys,

    Flattered to be part of the “big news” around here. Just a few things to note: I’m not from Florida. I grew up here in Minnesota, and though I’ve been away for a while, this is the scene that taught me to love music. I appreciate you guys reading the site during my first ten days in town, and please keep the criticism — positive and negative — coming on the site.

    I take issue with this point: “A long-standing complaint of this site is the never-ending coverage of Minnesota bands that have ‘made it’ or have otherwise earned a free-pass from larger media outlets.” Minnesota has it good. In general, a ton of bands from here actually “make it,” whatever we decide that means at the moment, and the local media actually cover these stories on a regular basis. I’ll gladly buy you a beer sometime, and tell you about other spots where I’ve worked that have a huge problem getting any coverage of local bands at all. Time will tell (it really has been just over a week) whether you think I give Twin Cities’ acts a free pass. However, ceasing to cover local bands just because they’re successful (or even formerly successful) is a ridiculous proposition for any publication that wants to retain a large, diverse readership.

    Also: “It’s unlikely that Village Voice Media is going to let Fischer write a cover story on the burgeoning Midwestern doom-metal scene.” This is one area where you’re completely wrong. Look no further than Village Voice’s never-ending coverage of Insane Clown Posse’s Gathering of the Juggalos. VVM doesn’t have its nose in the air when it comes to music subject matter — even if some of its writers do. Show me any sort of burgeoning scene that is a true local force, and ultimately has the potential to be a good read, and I’m there.

    Finally, Gimme Noise will always be a collaborative effort. If there’s something here you feel isn’t getting enough attention, just send me a pitch already. You might be surprised at how quickly I’ll put you to work.

  14. Josh says:

    “ceasing to cover local bands just because they’re successful (or even formerly successful) is a ridiculous proposition for any publication that wants to retain a large, diverse readership.”

    I think this misses the point and is a cop out that gets used way too often. People aren’t saying to not cover Howler, Jayhawks, Doomtree, Gayngs, etc. They are saying that covering their every move while not even scratching the surface of a lot of the great stuff happening in the scene is disappointing considering your “large, diverse” readership. If your readership is so diverse, they should be able to handle an occasional feature on some bands that they wouldn’t otherwise get information about from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Spin, etc.

    Do you see City Pages as more of a commercial enterprise there to serve advertisers and functioning under the weight of posting things that are “popular” and will get lots of hits, or do you see it as an established vehicle that can use its collective resources and platform to cover not only the more popular acts (both locally and nationally) but also take a risk by spending some of your column space on bands/songs/genres that may not have the momentum at their backs that the artists in the former category do?

    “Show me any sort of burgeoning scene that is a true local force, and ultimately has the potential to be a good read, and I’m there.”

    Um…isn’t this your job? You are the editor of the music section of the biggest local arts weekly in an incredibly strong music city. Finding a “burgeoning scene” and highlighting said scene would seem to me to be a pretty good mission statement for City Pages/Gimmie Noise. I guess it all comes back to whether your publication, which has plenty of resources ($$, paid staff, name recognition) feel any responsibility for actually being at the forefront of music news (both popular and obscure) or are content with simply regurgitating the music scene status quo. Also, taking a subject that doesn’t have defined counters or a clear narrative and making it a “good read” is what you get paid for…no? All of the ads in City Pages have to be going somewhere, right?

    Looking forward to seeing where you take CP/Gimmie Noise and glad to have this conversation open…I think a lot of cool stuff could be done in that space.

  15. Dave says:

    I agree and disagree.

    Music is subjective whether we like it or not. A work can only be “good” or “bad” in comparison to another piece within the context of a specific standard. Calling out “bad” music implies a common or universal standard by which all music can or should be judged. Listeners will tend to hold music to their own standards and to exclude their tastes and proclivities is bad for the music community. [I will stop myself at this point to keep from accidentally writing a dissertation.]

    On the other hand, readers (and especially musicians) should respect the right of the music writer to impose their own standards on the music they review without having to qualify themselves. Although starting every sentence with “in my opinion” and ending them all with “according to my personal qualitative standards of musical aesthetics” would pump the word count it would do little to make the article more interesting.

    Which is why I enjoy listening to a variety of music and why I enjoy reading a variety of critical perspectives. So while I may hold a different philosophy than Will I agree with his summary statement, that “a conversant – and occasionally warring – music press makes for a good community.”

  16. jonbehm says:

    I don’t think the point Will is making is that certain music is good or bad, I think its more about how dialogue can be a helpful tool in a healthy critical environment regardless of who is “right” or “wrong” about their opinion (which is largely irrelevant). And also that its something that is lacking in our current local environment. Will can correct me if I am wrong though.

  17. Will Wlizlo says:

    Hey all,
    This discussion has been great. I’ve got a lot of things to say generally and specifically. I’ll be piping in this evening; I’ve got a very busy workweek.

  18. Ben Clark says:

    “Let’s call bullshit on each other.”

    Ok. I’ve seen Reviler folks trotting out this “you’re doing local music coverage wrong” position against, well, everyone else around here more than once, and I will take up your challenge.

    Looking at all the headlines in your RSS feed I see 95 posts so far in 2012. Only 38% contain local music coverage, about a third of which offer no more critical analysis than a video link or a photo set (or a profile on a musician’s cat). The rest of the time you’re mostly writing about buzzy indie blog bands, I guess someone’s got to do that, right?

    For comparison Gimme Noise’s 105 posts in 2012 have have focused on the local music scene 64% of the time, the rest split between national touring acts and larger trends in music. Sure there are some bands that get repeat coverage, but I count at least 42 different local musicians, bands, or labels name-checked in a headline this month in 67 posts focus on the local community (I didn’t include Bon Iver, just to avoid the debate). It’s time to up the number when complaining “only X bands get any coverage in this town.”

    And lest anyone think I’d prefer quantity over quality, my goal here is to separate some hyperbole from the reality by looking at the numbers. There’s room for improvement everywhere in fostering quality writing.

    I feel like a lot of the “rah rah” behind articles like this comes from people who feel a sense of disdain for some of the bands that ARE receiving coverage, more than out of an earnest concern that the way local media covers our music scene is somehow systematically ignoring deserving bands. Or, maybe a lack of awareness about what the local media actually IS covering enforces an earnest, but misguided concern amongst people who only notice the big names.

    If “now is the perfect time to make a concerted push for underexposed, local music” I’d say the onus is on Reviler to catch up with our already unusually dedicated established local media.

    I don’t really need “4 takes on obscure buzz band” by all local writers. I can get that anywhere on the internet. I wish this site would focus on its own music community as much as people seem to be giving it credit for doing. I want to know who you think these underexposed MN bands are, not about an overexposed band from some other midwestern city.

    Bands don’t just spring into the collective consciousness overnight, despite what Poliça may have led some to believe. Offer a platform for local musicians that you like and help get their name out there. The chances are all the better that an AV Club critic will pick their CD out of the mountain in the mail-crate if they saw the name in your Twitter feed or on one of your critics’ Facebook walls.

    Spontaneous discoveries are awesome when they happen, for both a musician and for a critic, but the fact is, most coverage goes to bands that are building some sort of momentum. I see a lot of people in this community striving to help provide artists they appreciate with any sort of momentum they can offer. I also see a lot of griping about the ones that are on a roll. I throw my lot in with those in the former category.

    That said, there’s everything to be desired about a healthy discussion, which is why I felt compelled to offer a different take on this seemingly perpetual issue. After all, if we weren’t having this discussion it would mean we were living somewhere without a music scene to discuss.

    PS – I was kinda making fun, but I actually like the cat stuff. Keep doing that.

  19. Will Wlizlo says:

    Alright. Time to break my week of silence on the response to this article. Thanks to everyone for weighing in—whether you’re ready to follow me into combat or behead me. (I’d probably just behead me, and save yourself future trouble.) After writing this and letting it stew for a few days, reading responses from people deeply engaged Minnesota music culture, hemming and hawing around the water cooler, etc., I find myself overcome with a new set of anxieties—or at least a more complex, confused, untenable anxiety about local music coverage.

    For me, one of the most insightful byproducts from this feather-ruffling was getting a glimpse of the mainstream music press’s perspective. As one of the cynical cranks involved with this very niche website, it’s easy to poo-poo traditional media outlets. Hell, in some ways it’s almost a political stance. But the things that separate, say, City Pages and Reviler are fundamental and important. Things like audience, resources, advertising, and legacy all play a part in what a publication covers and how. Part of my disappointment is tied to the larger conversation about the “death of print” and declining editorial pages. It would be beautiful to see eight full pages of music coverage in an issue of City Pages (and eight pages of drama, visual arts, sports, politics)—but it’s no longer an industry reality. Instead, what counts as underground coverage gets ghettoized to the Internet—fed to the hungry maw of overstuffed music-junkies and out of the hands of casual readers.

    My biggest anxiety, of course, is that after slaying the Howlers and Alarmists and Hold Steadys (okay, Separation Sunday was pretty good) and championing the obscure bedroom electronica producer into the limelight—we’re back at square one.

    I’d like to take a moment and respond to a few people individually. I know I’m not addressing every concerns, contentions, and hurrahs, but I think I’m hitting the major ones. Apologies for the blocky formatting; I’ve got a lot of text to cram in.

    Jim Meyer — I’m very interested to hear some of your history with this subject. As I understand it, you were often the foil to Jim Walsh—among others—who are not exactly remembered for rooting for the underdog. Was the conversation much different back then? To what extent, would you say, have things changed in the intermittent years? This issue has obviously flared up again . . . so the frustration is still being felt.

    One of my primary concerns remains. I haven’t seen it countered well, at least. In my original post I wrote, “A long-standing complaint of this site is the never-ending coverage of Minnesota bands that have ‘made it’ or have otherwise earned a free-pass from larger media outlets.” So, now I think is a good time to address Mr. Fischer . . .

    Reed Fischer — To my previous statement you responded, “Minnesota has it good. In general, a ton of bands from here actually ‘make it,’ whatever we decide that means at the moment, and the local media actually cover these stories on a regular basis. I’ll [. . .] tell you about other spots where I’ve worked that have a huge problem getting any coverage of local bands at all.” Yes, we’re a city obsessed with music and full of pride for our local scene, whichever slice happens to resonate with a given person. It makes sense that people in an arty city talk about and, more importantly, write about bands—and that this might not be the norm in Topeka, Kansas. But what irks me is that rarely—so rarely that I can’t even conjure an instance from my memory—does a local band gaining a meager amount of popularity get an up-and-down critique. I mean, not everyone like No Kings, right? (I thought it was milquetoast-y.) If one only read the local press, you’d think it was an updated version of OK Computer. I can’t help but cynically assume that until Cecil Otter gets wasted and stabs a dude outside of Mesa Pizza, Doomtree will continue to release generally-and-widely-accepted-four-and-a-half-star albums.

    (Side notes: Apologies for implying that you were from Florida; I knew that you’re from Minnesota, but didn’t explicitly breakdown your migratory patterns. And also, I don’t mean to imply that just because you live in one state doesn’t mean that you can’t care about another’s music scene. I, for example, am emotionally invested in the visual-electronic scene of New South Wales, Australia. Go figure.)

    Josh Keller — In response to Reed’s comment—and specifically his general call for contributions and ideas—you wrote, “Um . . . isn’t this your job? You are the editor of the music section of the biggest local arts weekly in an incredibly strong music city.” I’d say that this flies off the handle a bit. [Hey, Reviler has a reputation to uphold, right?] I think it’s totally fair and honest for a new editor to feel a little adrift in a big, generally new scene. It’s an opening to get the weird crap we like—or weird crap other people like that we’ve never heard of—onto a different, widely-read platform. I have to agree with you, though, that the City Pages music editor’s desk is a rare seat of power with great potential for championing unpopular or unheard of music. One that, you and I would argue, doesn’t capitalize on the potential often enough.

    Ben Clark — Thank you, I was hoping for a response like yours. I never would have thought to look at the statistical difference between outlets, and I’d say that you successfully called bullshit on us. When Reviler is stripped down to its bare bones, it’s essentially an mp3 blog with a heavier-than-average focus on its local scene (heavier than, say, a Consequence of Sound, Gorilla vs. Bear, etc.). I don’t think that any of us would disagree that part of our mission is to clue people in to the offbeat music we’re digging from around the region, country, and globe. (And that doesn’t preclude us from weighing in on larger indie acts, either.) To go inside the machine a little: We meet regularly to talk about the types of things we should be covering. Some of it boils down to interest, some of it down to boredom with music writing, some to practicality, and some to chance. I can say that when we met at the beginning of the year, we hoped to expand our essay writing (hence, this post), our list of guest contributors, and our regional coverage. To that last point, we came to agreement that the Midwest is a musical ecosystem. Everything fits together, and it fits together with cross-over musicians and three-week regional tours. Hence, my introductions to Solid Attitude, Group of the Altos, and Canyons of Static. I’d say that your contention that “maybe a lack of awareness about what the local media actually IS covering enforces an earnest, but misguided concern amongst people who only notice the big names” could hold water. As someone who’s steeped in music writing for much of the day, I find it’s hard to keep perspective of what a “normal” music listener might come across. And don’t worry: The cats are more important than the music. We’ve also considered adding a salsa and pico de gallo component to our writing. Details forthcoming.

    Commenter Dave — Thanks for reiterating the sub-headline of this post: “a conversant—and occasionally warring—music press makes for a good community.”

  20. Reed Fischer says:

    This is my last comment on this thread, and it’ll be brief. If anyone here wants to suck up their pride and actually do some in-depth reporting and writing: You will be welcomed with open arms, get paid, get credit, and a handsome edit. Facilitating those situations for our blog and our paper is my job, and you’re welcome to join whenever.

  21. jonbehm says:

    Just want to add my own two cents here:

    First of all, feedback is great! While I take issue with some of the comments Ben Clark brings up, the two way dialogue is still great and (I think) something healthy for the scene providing that we have the ability to not take criticism personally (something we midwesterners find difficult to do). My own personal issue with the CP’s local coverage is that it continues to lack a critical voice. Criticism is something that can be good for the arts in any medium, since it provides actual valuable feedback to artists who would otherwise likely have a hard time getting honest feedback from friends, family. The best music critics are valued not only for their insight but for their willingness to push artists and not let them get away with stuff that doesn’t work. Now, I am not saying that we here at Reviler are great music critics. We don’t have a full time paid editor or a paid staff, so we don’t exactly have the resources that media outlets like the CP does. We cover what we want and what we like – when we have the time. We’re a part time blog, after all. The CP has so much in the way of available resources to it that it doesn’t seem completely out of line to expect more in depth music coverage. However, there is still very little in the way of critical content to be found. Artist interviews are disguised as album reviews. Local shows are praised or not written about at all. Perhaps this is asking too much, but if local artists aren’t going to get critical feedback from our local media then where are they going to get it? With few exceptions, national coverage doesn’t pay any attention to what is going on here.
    Lastly, Reed – I feel like Will wrote a well thought out reply and was offering a fig leaf. Seems like you are pretty much dismissing it pretty much outright.

  22. really? says:

    City Pages guy said—actually do some in-depth reporting and writing

    City Pages is going to start doing in-depth reporting and writing?! That is great news!

  23. I’ve applied a couple of times to do freelance work for Gimme Noise and never heard back (granted, I lack a journalism degree or any industry accolades). Thanks to Reviler, I’ve had the opportunity to do what I love…write about & discuss music. I consider myself far less knowledgeable than my counterparts when it comes to underground or rising acts, but this platform has given me the chance to contribute reviews of artists/albums that interest me, even if they’re not keeping in line with what’s being showcased on the rest of the site. For example, I’m probably the only contributor here who loves Belle & Sebastian, yet eagerly anticipates new material from Green Day and who once stood in line for *NSync tickets.

    We all love different kinds of music for different reasons. None of us our wrong, because none of us like Nickelback.

  24. old guy says:

    “I feel like a lot of the “rah rah” behind articles like this comes from people who feel a sense of disdain for some of the bands that ARE receiving coverage, more than out of an earnest concern that the way local media covers our music scene is somehow systematically ignoring deserving bands.”

    Not true. Just balance out who you cover.
    It’s all doomtree/social hip hop/folk music. MY PLEA CP is to not be so beholden to these mpls power cliques. Your most recent article by jon g. breaks that mold thank god, please try more of this.

  25. old guy says:

    1) don’t “get into bed” with local acts so often that you can’t be critical with their music

    2) for music you aren’t as familiar with don’t be lazy and review it with internal staff.. the basis is so far off. get someone in the know who c an be more cirtical (critique is not all bad)

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